The meeting started with A/Prof Sow Chorng Haur, co-chair of the Teaching & Learning Club (TLC), giving an introduction. He highlighted that the theme selected for the event was on grading. The topics to be discussed included:
What do NUS students think of the fact that their work is graded?
Is this a good thing? What are some of the drawbacks?
Should first-year modules be graded S/U, or pass/no record?
How to make sure the students stay interested in the learning if the module is graded S/U?
He then invited A/Prof Laksh to make an announcement on the 6th International Conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education 2011 (TLHE 2011) by CDTL. Prof Laksh invited the students to participate in the student panel category for the upcoming conference. The student panels are intended to serve as a platform for student groups to share and discuss their experiences in higher education and to help other participants to better understand the challenges faced by Gen Y learners and their learning needs. He added that students are encouraged to form their own groups, propose a topic, and submit an abstract to the committee. There will be facilitators who will help them to prepare for their sessions.
The students and lecturers then broke into buzz groups to discuss the questions that were prepared by the TLC leaders. After the buzz group discussion, students answered the questions that they were asked to tackle and also raised a few concerns:
The students agreed that the first year is very important and should pave the way for continued learning, by providing the basic knowledge that the students need later on. They also acknowledged that the first year presents a range of difficulties and challenges such as losing a scholarship, choosing a wrong subject, adapting to a new system, managing time etc. They agreed that grading is important because it motivates, empowers and helps student to learn more. The question is not whether grading is good or not good; but the more important question is how to make it work. The students did not quite agree with the bell curve system. They felt that they were not graded on what they know but how they perform based on others in their batch.
S/U or pass/no record
This led to the next question: whether it might be a good thing to grade all first year modules S/U or pass/no record. The students identified the following as objectives of S/U:
Shift focus from direct scores to learning
Allow adjustment to university life
They agreed that the S/U option could release some of the stress of student life but felt that the current system has some restrictions such as not allowing S/U options for non-core modules, and that S/U is currently applied across the board rather than making it an option. They gave some suggestions to improve the system:
Adopting an alternative system such as weighted grading
Applying S/U options to non-core modules
Exercising S/U options after knowing all their grades
Let students decide whether to be graded or S/U
Qualitative assessment from lecturers and peers
Adopting continual assessment especially if tutors could give input
Improving the syllabus – more hands-on or research-based syllabus
Changing students’ mindset that education is not just about getting good grades
Senior students helping junior students such as forming a peer study group
At the end of the day they agreed that grades do matter, and that there is a need to find a reasonable balance between two competing issues – learning and getting good grades. Prof Chng Huang Hoon encouraged students who have any issues to approach either their own departments/faculties or the CDTL and the Teaching Academy.
The TLC committee met up with students from various faculties to discuss issues pertaining to Student Feedback. The students then broke into “buzz groups” to discuss on the topic. A/P Sow Chorng Haur and Dr Johan Geertsema facilitated the discussion.
The meeting started with the introduction to the NUS Teaching Academy (TA) by its Acting-Chair Laksh Samavedham. He mentioned that the TA is interested in pursuing projects that can lead to the enhancement of the quality of Teaching & Learning. The Academy understands that educational related issues are complex and therefore outreach activities such as this (TLC) would create a good opportunity to gather different perspectives, inputs and feedback from the faculty and as well as the student body.
TA’s Outreach committee coordinator Andy Hor highlighted that the main focus of NUS was to develop the talents of students and as well as to train scholars. With this fundamental point in mind, the Teaching Academy focuses on improving Teaching & Learning issues in NUS. It is in constant dialogue with the Vice Provost of Education to help develop the Teaching & Learning culture. TLC is a good forum that invites suggestions and feedback from students and hopes to tackle some of the impending issues.
Kenneth Tan (Outreach committee member) suggested that TLC would like to build social links to facilitate more interaction and to showcase some of the good work done by the various NUS departments.
Activities for TLC
1. Regular Meetings
We should have regular meetings to discuss about issues, which are of common interest and usefulness.
2. Department Open Houses
We should organise departmental open houses where we can get students and/or faculty to present 2 or 3 innovations or some issues that are of general concern to the University. We would be interested to know how the department has dealt with such issues in a unique way. We should also go to the department to hear about some of the practices that can be showcased.
3. Field Trips
We should organise field trips to different institutions where learning is a central activity e.g. SMU or ITE. We should find out what are some of the Teaching and Learning issues that these institutions have dealt with and also learn how they tackled them.
4. Teaching Academy Website
We should have a web presence along side with face-to-face interaction. Currently TLC has put up IVLE for teachers and students to debate and discuss on issues. Notes of the TLC meetings will also be posted on this website. The website would also notify students of any upcoming activities.
5. Teaching Assistants
No formal body or student organisation where the teaching assistants can get to know each other. Most of the teaching assistants do not know their fellow colleagues and would prefer some kind of a formal/informal gathering to know each other and share ideas.
The teaching assistants would want to receive quality feedback that would help them to improve their teaching. Currently, some teaching assistants do not receive any feedback for the modules that they do.
Teaching assistants would like to be given more autonomy to re-design tutorial questions. They would like the questions to be re-designed to suit a particular class they are teaching and make the questions more challenging.
What can be done?
Have joint meeting sessions with faculty and students on the topic concerning teaching assistants. We could think about the different policies that various faculties have about teaching assistants. We can also learn about the good practices from one another and then implement any policies.
There should be some kind of feedback for teaching assistant practices to assess the quality and excellence of teaching of teaching assistants. The TLC could be a platform for teaching assistants of different faculties/departments to connect with one another.
6. Culture of openness
IVLE has restricted access and the lectures and course content posted on the website have become more secured. Some of the teaching assistants are not able to view the course syllabus of the modules for which they are not teaching assistants.
What can be done?
Although different professors have different reasons for keeping certain things confidential, we could encourage a certain kind of sharing and openness.
7. Culture of participation
Many students shy away from asking questions in the classroom and prefer to approach the lecturers during the breaks or after the class but due to time constraints the lecturer may not be able to answer all queries. Students feel that there is a lack of channel to reach their lecturers. They favour the use of technology where their questions can be posted online which could then be addressed by the lecturer.
What can be done?
There are some low and high tech ways of achieving this. We should try and use the existing technologies and ensure that it is fully utilized. We should also explore new technologies, which we can use to improve class participation. We could use the Student Feedback to assess the appropriate use of technology by professors.
8. Multi-disciplinary courses
Students prefer taking up courses in other departments. They have limited choices of courses and would prefer more sharing between faculties. Students also pointed out that University studies should be leisurely and not stressful.
What can be done?
We should have more multi-disciplinary possibilities or combinations. We need to understand the different curriculum requirements of different faculties and the limits to inter-disciplinary or multi-disciplinary studies.
The current University education prepares students for the economy and as such should we still think of University studies as leisure time? We need to look at how much pressure is put on students to succeed.
9. Departmental Issues
Different departments observe different policies and practices when it comes to teaching.
What can be done?
Departments should have more sharing of information on such matters. The differences in policies and practices should not be challenged but we have to understand the differences and why is it that some departments have different approaches to teaching. We should see how the best practices can be adopted and adapted throughout the University.
10. Pleasures and purposes of education
Inculcate in students the joy of learning. Educators should make subjects exciting and show students that learning can be fun. The PowerPoint is one tool that had been over used and we should find ways on how it could be used effectively to teach students.
What can be done?
We should avoid looking at the nitty-gritty issues of class practices. As professors and students, we should know what we are doing and what are we trying to achieve and whether we are doing it in the best possible way. We should have a meeting to discuss about the larger purpose and even pleasures of education.
The meeting concluded with some remarks from Andy Hor, Kenneth Tan and Laksh. It was decided that the time and agenda for the next meeting will be communicated to the group shortly.